Staring at the lights…
I spent last Friday night in Horwich. No, it wasn’t part of my Community Service. Although queuing up for tickets was a bit like taking Freaks Rollcall. I was there to see Crunch. I like the FWA. It’s got great wrestlers, hires brilliant foreign guests and manages to work without too many gimmicks. I was looking forward to a great night of wrestling.
So, did I get it? Well, sort of. The FWA had an off night.
Now hang on a moment, I’m not here to do a hatchet job on Alex Shane and the boys. I know that I’m not overly charitable most of the time, and that my name is a dead giveaway, but I really want to see the FWA succeed. They are at the head of the vanguard of New British Wrestling (as I will now call it), and with a firm fan base and regular spots on The Wrestling Channel, they could be just about to make it big. In fact, the show I saw on April 9th was being recorded for the channel. And it could have been so much better.
So this column is an open letter to the FWA (and Alex Shane) about the problems I saw that night. They can either take my comments on board and make sure they address them, or they can treat them with the contempt they may well deserve, and risk squandering the good feeling they have built up over the years. Whatever they choose, the following comments are honest, supportive and, needless to say, RIGHT.
The venue was only ¾ full, but this was hardly surprising considering the lack of pre-publicity. The event skulked into Horwich like Tony Blair into Libya, tickets were not on sale until the night and the FWA website was still proclaiming “Horwich-Details Pending” the day after the show! Lack of preparation leads to a turnout of just the hardcore fans, and a smaller portion of bread and butter for all. Inside, the lack of official merchandise gave the event a hasty, thrown-together feel. The Extreme Central lads were there, well stocked as ever, but the FWA table offered a couple of t-shirts and a meagre selection of videos. Oh, and several wobbly head D’Lo dolls (more of him later). I saw many punters sidle up to the table, only to turn away dejectedly after seeing what was on offer. Fans like to be accorded some importance too, just like wrestlers.
This is a hard one. The next gripe may look a little personal. John Atkins. His “rabbit in the headlights” announcing style may be over with the hardcore crowd, but it won’t sit well with the casual punters-and they are the people that the FWA want and need. Rooted to the spot and wearing an ill-fitting suit, he was so stiff I could have sworn he’d just quaffed a big glass of formaldehyde. Of course, I’m not suggested he be replaced by a Joey Styles clone (God forbid!), that isn’t necessary at all, but his delivery must become more confident. His seeming inability to believe his good fortune simply will not cut it. Wrestlers deserve a barnstorming build-up, not an apology. I’m sure he can do it, but he really needs to raise that voice.
The FWA has always been rightly praised for the quality of its wrestling, and we certainly got that. The evening kicked off with seemingly perennial opener James Tighe versus Eamon Shrahan. Tighe is a technically excellent wrestler with a small charisma problem, but Shrahan had bucketfuls of the stuff when I saw him work as a heel last year; here as a face he was rather neutralised. The match developed well from head and armlocks to some sizzling near falls and great spots. A nice launchpad for the evening.
The FWA does have a huge advantage: its mid card is packed with potential stars. Two of them were on show in Horwich. First up, Mark Sloan; “The Specialist” seems to have been there forever, but his ring work is still brilliantly crisp. He was thrown into a match with the seemingly cabbage green Aviv Maayan, but he generated heat and bossed the action. Although Maayan went over, the contest belonged to Sloan’s great work, as he put his all into it and changed styles effortlessly. Great to watch.
And the biggest potential of the night? Jack Xavier. This man sells like no-one else in the FWA; he has heat, a great rapport with the crowd and can really work in the ring. I think he has everything in place to make the step to the topline-he may be small, but the “underdog factor” will work in his favour. Of course, he was booked to lose here to Mark “5 Star” Benton, a rangy, floppy-haired, boredom machine. And he lost by submission, thus stalling any progress he’d built up. The REAL DEAL is right under their noses, and I hope to see big things for him at Carpe Diem in June.
I think short sighted booking was at the root of this lacklustre show. Whilst I recognise that the card was used to advance fresher talent or reintroduce those returning, to do that at the expense of established, popular wrestlers who could become headliners seems misguided.
The guests to the FWA have always fitted in extremely well-Jerry Lynn, Christopher Daniels and AJ Styles, for instance, were such a natural part of the Fed that it was as if they had never been anywhere else. At Horwich there were 2 big names-Sonjay Dutt and D’Lo Brown. And it was a treat to see them; it was just that the Triple Threat match with brilliant old stager Jonny Storm didn’t really mean anything. Sure, I enjoyed it; Dutt and Brown worked hard (which isn’t always the case with visitors from the US of A) and they all had a good time. But with only the tag straps up for grabs, we all needed the main event to have some consequence. No such luck.
No Doug Williams. No Daniels. And very little of the Showstealer too. I’m sure we’d agree that Alex Shane has it all-great behind the stick, charismatic and a classy wrestler too; but here he was treading water in an angle to push the Unsigned show the following afternoon. So we suffered Alex using his formidable talent to rant at local lad “X”, who wasn’t allowed to speak (and weren’t we glad!); he then gave us a McMahon trademark Boss Slaps Kid match with “Dangerous” Damon Leigh. For dangerous read docile.
Actually, it wasn’t a dire match, and maybe I shouldn’t put the rookies down. But I’m finding it hard to hide the disappointment of seeing only one match of real consequence. The tag title match was a fine one, Paul Travell again proving himself a great angle worker, but we knew the Family would never drop the belts to the makeshift tagteam of Spud (great outfit, even greater talent) and Murat Bhosphorus.
A night of should have beens. I was left strangely unmoved. Alex Shane and the FWA should certainly be proud of what they’ve done. They’ve carved out a niche based largely on great wrestling, and are now securing young talent, TV exposure and an extensive Internet presence. Certainly the three guys I met after the show were sold on the FWA-they were young, immensely knowledgeable about the indies and drawn to its vitality. These are the fans of the future, and it’s surely right to go after them. It’s called demographic, I think.
I’m just worried that amongst all the media stuff surrounding them, the FWA may take their eye off what happens between the turnbuckles, and I think I saw the beginnings of that on Friday night.
If they are not careful, the FWA may be left with a fantastically stocked window, but no-one looking in.